Part 2 out of 3
"If you would take her home in case I miss it. I must go to the office--"
"I'd like to. That's settled." This time her tones were warm and
friendly. Ruyler knew that Mrs. Thornton did not like his wife, but her
friendliness toward him, since her return from Europe three or four
months ago, had increased, if anything. His mind was now working with its
accustomed keen clarity. He recalled that there had been no surprise
mixed with the contempt in her regard of his wife and Doremus.... He also
recalled that several times of late when he had met her at the
Fairmont--where he often lunched with a group of men--she had regarded
him with a curious considering glance, which he suddenly vocalized as:
This affair had been going on for some time, then. Either it was common
talk, or some circumstance had enlightened Mrs. Thornton alone.
He glanced around the table. No one appeared to be taking the slightest
notice of one of many flirtations. At least, whatever his wife's
infatuation, he could avert gossip. Mrs. Thornton might be a tigress, but
she was not a cat.
"When do you go down to Burlingame?" she asked.
"Not for two or three weeks yet. I don't fancy merely sleeping in the
country. But by that time things will ease up a bit and I can get down
every day in time to have a game of golf before dinner."
"Shall Mrs. Ruyler migrate with the rest?"
"It will be dull for her in town. No reflections on your charming
society, but of course she does not get much of it, and she will miss her
young friends. After all, she is a child and needs playmates."
Ruyler darted at her a sharp look, but she was smiling amiably. Doremus
and the men he lived with, in town had a bungalow at Burlingame and they
bought their commutation tickets at precisely the fashionable moment.
"She will stay in town," he said shortly. "She needs a rest, and San
Francisco is the healthiest spot on earth."
"But trying to the nerves when what we inaccurately call the trade winds
begin. Why not let her stay with me? Of course she would be lonely in her
own house, and is too young to stay there alone anyhow, but I'd like to
put her up, and you certainly could run down week-ends--possibly oftener.
American men are always obsessed with the idea that they are twice as
busy as they really are."
"You are too good. I'll put it up to Helene. Of course it is for her to
decide. I'd like it mighty well." But grateful as he was, his uneasiness
deepened at her evident desire to place her forces at his disposal.
"And you won't take me to the party?" Helene pouted charmingly as her
husband laid her pink taffeta wrap over her shoulders. "I thought you
said you might make it, and it would be too delightful to dance with you
"I'm afraid not. The Australian mail came in just as business closed and
it's on my mind. I want to go over it carefully before I dictate the
answers in the morning, and that means two or three hours of hard work
that will leave me pretty well fagged out. Mrs. Thornton has offered to
take you home."
"I hate her."
"Oh, please don't!" Ruyler smiled into her somber eyes. "She wants the
drive, and it would be taking the Gwynnes so far out of the way. Mrs.
Thornton very kindly suggested it."
"I hate her," said Helene conclusively. "I wish now I'd kept my own car.
Then I could always go home alone."
"You shall have a car next winter. And this time I shall not permit you
to pay for it out of your allowance--which in any case I hope to increase
by that time."
Her eyes flamed, but not with anger. "Then I'll sell my electric to
Aileen Lawton right away. We have the touring car in the country, and
she has been trying to make her father buy her an electric--"
"I'm afraid you'll be disappointed in your bargain. Second-hand cars, no
matter what their condition, always go at a sacrifice, and old Lawton is
a notorious screw. Better not let it go for two or three hundreds; you
look very sweet driving about in it.... Oh, by the way--I had
forgotten." He slipped his hand under her coat, unfastened the chain and
slipped the jewel into his pocket. "I am sorry," he said, with real
contrition, "and almost wish I had forgotten the thing; but I am a little
superstitious about keeping that old promise."
She laughed. "And yet you will not permit poor maman a little
superstition of her own! But I am rather glad. Everybody at the ball will
hear of the ruby, and I shall be able to keep them in suspense until the
Thornton fete. Good night. Don't work too hard. Couldn't you get there
He did go down to the office and glance through the Australian mail,
but at a few moments before twelve he took a California Street car up
to the Fairmont Hotel and went directly to the ballroom. Mrs.
Thornton was standing just within the doorway, but came toward him
with lifted eyebrows.
"This is like old times," she said playfully.
"I found less mail than I expected and thought I would come and have a
dance with my wife." His eyes wandered over the large room, gayly
decorated, and filled with dancing couples.
Mrs. Thornton laughed. "A belle like your wife? She is always engaged for
every dance on her program before she is halfway down this corridor."
"Oh, well, husbands have some rights. I'll take it by force. I don't see
her--she must be sitting out."
Mrs. Thornton slipped her arm through his. "This dance has just begun.
Walk me up and down. I am tired of standing on one foot."
They strolled down the corridor and through the large central hall. Older
folks sat or stood in groups; a few young couples were sitting out.
Ruyler did not see his wife, and concluded she had been resting at the
moment in the dowager ranks against the wall of the ballroom. The music
ceased sooner than he expected and Mrs. Thornton, who had been talking
with animation on the subject of several fine pictures she had bought
while abroad for the Museum in Golden Gate Park, including one by
Masefield Price, broke off with an impatient exclamation: "Bother! I must
run up to my room at once and telephone. Wait for me here."
She steered him toward a group of men. "Mr. Gwynne, keep Mr. Ruyler from
causing a riot in the ballroom. He insists upon dancing with his wife.
Hold him by force."
They were standing near the staircase and some distance from the lift.
Mrs. Thornton ran up the stairs, pausing for an irresistible moment and
looking down at the company. As she stood there, poised, she looked a
royal figure with her cloth of gold train covering the steps below her
and her high and flashing head. "Wait for me," she said, imperiously to
Price. "I cannot meander down that corridor, deserted and alone."
Ruyler smiled at her, but said to Gwynne: "I'll just go and engage my
wife for a dance and be back in a jiffy--"
Gwynne clasped his hand about Ruyler's arm. "Just a moment, old chap. I
want your opinion--"
"But there is the music again. I'll be knocking people over--"
"You will if you go now, and there'll be dancing for hours yet. Your wife
has been dividing up--now, tell me if you back me in this proposition or
not. I'm going to Washington to represent you fellows--"
But Ruyler had broken politely away and was walking down the long
corridor. When he arrived at the ballroom he saw at a glance that his
wife was not there, for the floor was only half filled. But there were
other rooms where dancers sat in couples or groups when tired. He went
hastily through all of them, but saw nothing of his wife. Nor of Doremus.
Mrs. Thornton had gone in search of her.
And Gwynne knew.
This time the hot blood was pounding in his head. He felt as he imagined
madmen did when about to run amok. Or quite as primitive as any
Californian of the surging "Fifties."
He was in one of the smaller rooms and he sat down in a corner with his
back to the few people in it and endeavored to take hold of himself; the
conventional training of several lifetimes and his own intense pride
forbade a scene in public. But his curved fingers longed for Doremus'
throat and he made up his mind that if his awful suspicions were
vindicated he would beat his wife black and blue. That was far more
sensible and manly than running whining to a divorce court.
The effort at self-control left him gasping, but when he rose from his
shelter he was outwardly composed, and determined to seek Gwynne and
force the truth from him. He would not discuss his wife with another
woman. And whatever this hideous tragedy brooding over his life he would
go out and come to grips with it at once.
And in the corridor he saw his wife chatting gayly with a group of young
friends. Her color was paler than usual, perhaps, but that was not
uncommon at a party, and otherwise she was as unruffled, as normal in
appearance and manner, as when they had parted at the Gwynnes'.
Nevertheless, he went directly up to her, and as she gave a little cry of
pleased surprise, he drew her hand through his arm. "Come!" he said
imperiously. "You are to dance this with me. I broke away on purpose--"
"But, darling, I am full up--"
"You have skipped at least two. I have been looking everywhere for you--"
"Polly Roberts dragged me upstairs to see the new gowns M. Dupont brought
her from Paris. They came this afternoon--so did Mrs. Thornton's--but of
course I'll dance this with you. You don't look well," she added
anxiously. "Aren't you?"
"Quite, but rather tired--mentally. I need a dance...."
He wondered if she had gently propelled him down the corridor. They were
some distance from the group. It was impossible for him to go back and
ask if his wife's story were true. Mrs. Thornton was nowhere to be seen,
neither in the corridor nor in the ballroom. Nor was Doremus. He set his
teeth grimly and managed to smile down upon his wife.
"I shall insist upon having more than one," he said gallantly. "At least
She drew in her breath with a mock sigh and swept from under her long
lashes a glance that still had the power to thrill him. "Outrageous, but
I shall try to bear up," and the next moment they were giving a graceful
exhibition of the tango.
"I don't see your friend Doremus," he said casually, as he stood fanning
her at the end of the dance.
She lifted her eyebrows haughtily. "My friend? That parasite?"
"You seemed very friendly at dinner."
"I usually am with my dinner companion. One's hostess is to be
considered. Oh--I remember--he was telling me some very amusing gossip,
although he teased me into fearing he wouldn't. Now, if you are going to
dance this hesitation with me you had better whirl me off. It is Mr.
Thornton's, and I see him coming."
Ruyler did not see Doremus until supper was half over and then the young
man entered the dining-room hurriedly, his usually serene brow lowering
and his lips set. He walked directly up to Helene.
"Beastly luck!" he exclaimed. "Hello, Ruyler. Didn't know you honored
parties any more. I had to break away to meet the Overland train--beastly
thing was late, of course. Then I had to take them to five hotels before
I could settle them. They had two beastly little dogs and the hotels
wouldn't take them in and they wouldn't give up the dogs. Some one ought
to set up a high-class dog hotel. Sure it would pay. But you'll give me
the first after supper, won't you?"
Helene gave him a casual smile that was a poor reward for his elaborate
apology. "So sorry," she said with the sweet distant manner in which she
disposed of bores and climbers, "but Mr. Ruyler and I are both tired. We
are going home directly after supper."
On the following day at six o'clock Ruyler went to Long's to meet Jake
Spaulding. By a supreme effort of will he had put his private affairs out
of his mind and concentrated on the business details which demanded the
most highly trained of his faculties. But now he felt relaxed, almost
languid, as he walked along Montgomery Street toward the rendezvous. He
met no one he knew. The historic Montgomery Street, once the center of
the city's life, was almost deserted, but half rebuilt. He could saunter
and think undisturbed.
What was he to hear? And what bearing would it be found to have on his
He had gone to sleep last night as sure as a man may be of anything that
his wife was no more interested in Doremus than in any other of the
young men who found time to dance attendance upon idle, bored, but
If the man knew her secret and were endeavoring to exact blackmail he
would pay his price with joy--after thrashing him, for he would have
sacrificed the half of his fortune never to experience again not only the
demoralizing attack of jealous madness of the night before, which had
brought in its wake the uneasy doubt if civilization were as far advanced
as he had fondly imagined, but the sensation of amazed contempt which had
swept over him at the dinner table as he had seen his wife, whom he had
believed to be a woman of instinctive taste and fastidiousness,
manifestly upon intimate terms with a creature who should have been
walking on four legs. Better, perhaps, the desire to kill a woman than to
He slammed the door when he entered the little room reserved for him, and
barely restrained himself from flinging his hat into a corner and
breaking a chair on the table. His languor had vanished.
Spaulding followed him immediately.
"Howdy," he said genially, as he pushed his own hat on the back of his
head and bit hungrily at the end of a cigar. "Suppose you've been
impatient--unless too busy to think about it."
"I'd like to know what you've found out as quickly as you can tell me."
"Well, to begin with the kid. I had some trouble at the convent. They're
a close-mouthed lot, nuns. But I frightened them. Told them it was a
property matter, and unless they answered my questions privately they'd
have to answer them in court. Then they came through."
Spaulding lit his cigar and handed the match to Ruyler, who ground it
under his heel.
"Just about nineteen years ago a Frenchwoman, giving her name as Madame
Dubois, arrived one day with a child a year old and asked the nuns to
take care of it, promising a fancy payment. The child had been on a farm
with a wet-nurse (French style), but Madame Dubois wanted it to learn
from the first to speak proper English and French, and to live in a
refined atmosphere generally from the time it was able to take notice.
She said she was on the stage and had to travel, so was not able to give
the kid the attention it should have, and the doctor had told her that
traveling was bad for kids that age, anyhow. Her lawyers would pay the
baby's board on the first of every month--"
"Who were the lawyers?"
"Lawton and Cross."
"I thought so. Go on."
"The nuns, who, after all, knew their California, thought they smelt a
rat, for the woman was extraordinarily handsome, magnificently dressed;
the Mother Superior--who is a woman of the world, all right--read the
newspapers, and had never seen the name of Dubois--and knew that only
stars drew fat salaries. She asked some sharp questions about the father,
and the woman replied readily that he was a scientific man, an inventor,
and--well, it was natural, was it not? they did not get on very well. He
disliked the stage, but she had been on it before she married him, and
dullness and want of money for her own needs and her child's had driven
her back. He had lived in Los Angeles for a time, but had recently gone
East to take a high-salaried position. It was with his consent that she
asked the nuns to take the child--possibly for two or three years. When
she was a famous actress and could leave the road, she would keep house
for her husband in New York, and make a home for the child.
"The Mother Superior, by this time, had made up her mind that the father
wished the child removed from the mother's influence, and although she
took the whole yarn with a bag of salt, the child was the most beautiful
she had ever seen, and obviously healthy and amiable. Moreover, the
convent was to receive two hundred dollars a month--"
"Exactly. Can you beat it? The Mother Superior made up her mind it was
her duty to bring up the little thing in the way it should go. As the
woman was leaving she said something about a possible reconciliation with
her family, who lived in France; they had not written her since she went
on the stage. They were of a respectability!--of the old tradition! But
if they came round she might take the child to them, if her husband would
consent. She should like it to be brought up in France--
"Here the Mother Superior interrupted her sharply. Was her husband a
Frenchman? And she answered, no doubt before she thought, for these
people always forget something, that no, he was an American--her family,
also, detested Americans. The Mother Superior once more interrupted her
glibness. How, then, did he have a French name? Oh, but that was her
stage name--she always went by it and had given it without thinking. What
was her husband's name? After a second's hesitation she stupidly give the
name Smith. I can see the mouth of the Mother Superior as it set in a
grim line. 'Very well,' said she, 'the child's name is Helene Smith'; and
although the woman made a wry face she was forced to submit.
"The child remained there four years, and the Mother Superior had some
reason to believe that 'Madame Dubois' spent a good part of that time in
San Francisco. She came at irregular intervals to see the child--always
in vacation, when there were no pupils in the convent, and always at
night. The Mother Superior, however, thought it best to make no
investigations, for the child throve, they were all daffy about her, and
the money came promptly on the first of every month. When the mother came
she always brought a trunk full of fine underclothes, and left the money
for a new uniform. Then, one day, Madame Dubois arrived in widow's weeds,
said that her husband was dead, leaving her quite well off, and that she
was returning to France."
"And Madame Delano's story is that he died on the way to Japan--if it is
the same woman--"
"Haven't a doubt of it myself. I did a little cabling before I left last
night to a man I know in Paris to find out just when Madame Delano
returned with her child to live with her family in Rouen. He got busy and
here is his answer--just fifteen years ago almost to the minute."
"Then who was her husband?"
"There you've got me--so far. He was no 'scientist, who later accepted
a high-salaried position.' A decent chap of that sort would have
written to his child, paid her board himself, most likely taken it away
from the mother--"
"But she may have kidnapped it--"
"People are too easy traced in this State--especially that sort. Nor do
I believe she was an actress. There never was any actress of that
name--not so you'd notice it, anyhow, and that woman would have been
known for her looks and height even if she couldn't act. Moreover, if
she was an actress there would be no sense in giving the nuns a false
name, since she had admitted the fact. No, it's my guess that she was
"Well, I've prepared myself for anything."
"I figure out that she was the mistress of one of our rich highfliers,
and that when he got tired of her he pensioned her off, and she made up
her mind to reform on account of the kid, and went back to Rouen, and
proceeded to identify herself with her class by growing old and shapeless
as quickly as possible. She must have adopted the name Delano in New York
before she bought her steamer ticket, for although I've had a man on the
hunt, the only Delanos of that time were eminently respectable--"
"Why are you sure she was not a--well--woman of the town?"
"Because, there again--there's no dame of that time either of that name
or looks--neither Dubois nor Delano. Of course, they come and go, but
there's every reason to think she stayed right on here in S.F. Of
course, I've only had twenty-four hours--I'll find out in another
twenty-four just what conspicuous women of fifteen to twenty years ago
measure up to what she must have looked like--I got the Mother Superior
to describe her minutely: nearly six feet, clear dark skin with a
natural red color--no make-up; very small features, but well made--nose
and mouth I'm talking about. The eyes were a good size, very black with
rather thin eyelashes. Lots of black hair. Stunning figure. Rather large
ears and hands and feet. She always dressed in black, the handsomest
sort. They generally do."
"Well?" asked Ruyler through his teeth. He had no doubt the woman was his
mother-in-law. "The Jameses? What of them?"
"That's the snag. Rest is easy in comparison. Innumerable Jameses must
have died about that time, to say nothing of all the way along the line,
but while some of the records were saved in 1906, most went up in smoke.
Moreover, there's just the chance that he didn't die here. But that's
going on the supposition that the man died when she left California,
which don't fit our theory. I still think he died not so very long before
her return to California, and that she probably came to collect a legacy
he had left her. Otherwise, I should think it's about the last place she
would have come to. I put a man on the job before I left of collecting
the Jameses who've died since the fire. Here they are."
He took a list from his pocket and read:
"James Hogg, bookkeeper--races, of course. James Fowler, saloon-keeper.
James Despard, called 'Frenchy,' a clever crook who lived on
blackmail--said to have a gift for getting hold of secrets of men and
women in high society and squeezing them good and plenty--"
He paused. "Of course, that might be the man. There are points. I'll have
his life looked into, but somehow I don't believe it. I have a hunch the
man was a higher-up. The sort of woman the Mother Superior described can
get the best, and they take it. To proceed: James Dillingworth, lawyer,
died in the odor of sanctity, but you never can tell; I'll have him
investigated, too. James Maston--I haven't had time to have had the
private lives of any of these men looked into, but I knew some of them,
and Maston, who was a journalist, left a wife and three children and was
little, if any, over thirty. James Cobham, broker--he was getting on to
fifty, left about a million, came near being indicted during the Graft
Prosecutions, and although his wife has been in the newspapers as a
society leader for the last twenty years, and he was one of the founders
of Burlingame, and then was active in changing the name of the high part
to Hillsboro when the swells felt they couldn't be identified with the
village any longer, and he handed out wads the first of every year to
charity, there are stories that he came near being divorced by his
haughty wife about fifteen years ago. Of course, those men don't parade
their mistresses openly like they did thirty years ago--I mean men with
any social position to keep up. But now and again the wife finds a note,
or receives an anonymous letter, and gets busy. Then it's the divorce
court, unless he can smooth her down, and promises reform. Cobham seems
to me the likeliest man, and I'm going to start a thorough investigation
to-morrow. These other Jameses don't hold out any promise at
all--grocers, clerks, butchers. It's the list in hand I'll go by, and if
nothing pans out--well, we'll have to take the other cue she threw out
and try Los Angeles."
"Do you know anything about a man named Nicolas Doremus?" asked
"The society chap? Nothing much except that he don't do much business on
the street but is supposed to be pretty lucky at poker and bridge. But he
runs with the crowd the police can't or don't raid. I've never seen or
heard of him anywhere he shouldn't be except with swell slumming or
roadhouse parties. He's never interested me. If Society can stand that
sort of bloodsucking tailor's model, I guess I can. Why do you ask? Got
anything to do with this case?"
"I have an idea he has found out the truth and is blackmailing my wife.
You might watch him."
"Good point. I will. And if he's found out the truth I guess I can."
Helene, as Ruyler had anticipated, refused positively to accept Mrs.
"Do you think I'd leave you--to come home to a dreary house every night?
Even if I don't see much of you, at least you know I'm there; and that if
you have an evening off you have only to say the word and I'll break any
engagement--you have always known that!"
Ruyler had not, but she looked so eager and sweet--she was lunching with
him at the Palace Hotel on the day following his interview with
Spaulding--that he hastened to assure her affectionately that the
certainty of his wife's desire for his constant companionship was both
his torment and his consolation.
Helene continued radiantly:
"Besides, darling, Polly Roberts is staying on. Rex can't get away yet."
"Polly Roberts is not nearly good enough for you. She hasn't an idea in
her head and lives on excitement--"
Helene laughed merrily. "You are quite right, but there's no harm in her.
After all, unless one goes in for charities (and I can't, Price, yet;
besides the charities here are wonderfully looked after), plays bridge,
has babies, takes on suffrage--what is there to do but play? I suppose
once life was serious for young women of our class; but we just get into
the habit of doing nothing because there's nothing to do. Take to-morrow
as an example: I suppose Polly and I will wander down to The Louvre in
the morning and buy something or look at the new gowns M. Dupont has just
brought from Paris.
"Then we'll lunch where there's lots of life and everybody is chatting
gayly about nothing.
"Then we'll go to the Moving Pictures unless there is a matinee, and then
we'll motor out to the Boulevard, and then back and have tea somewhere.
"Or, perhaps, we'll motor down to the Club at Burlingame for lunch and
chatter away the day on the veranda, or dance. This afternoon we'll
probably ring up a few that are still in town, and dance in Polly's
parlor at the Fairmont."
Helene's lip curled, her voice had risen. With, all her young enjoyment
of wealth and position, she had been bred in a class where to idle is a
crime. "Just putting in time--time that ought to be as precious as
youth and high spirits and ease and popularity! But what is one to do?
I have no talents, and I'd lose caste in my set if I had. I don't
wonder the Socialists hate us and want to put us all to work. No doubt
we should be much happier. But now--even if you retired from business,
you'd spend most of your time on the links. We poor women wouldn't be
much better off."
"It does seem an abnormal state of affairs; I've barely given it a
thought, it has always been such a pleasure to find you, after a hard
day's work, looking invariably dainty, and pretty, and eloquently
suggestive of leisure and repose. But--to the student of history--I
suppose it is a condition that cannot last. There must be some sort of
upheaval due. Well, I hope it will give me more of your society."
They smiled at each other across the little table in perfect confidence.
They were lunching in the court, and after she had blown him a kiss over
her glass of red wine, her eyes happened to travel in the direction of
the large dining-room. She gave a little exclamation of distaste.
"There is maman lunching with that hateful old Mr. Lawton. He was in her
sitting-room when I ran in to call on her yesterday, and nearly snapped
my head off when I asked him if he wouldn't buy my electric for Aileen.
He said it was time she began to learn a few economies instead of more
extravagances. Poor darling Aileen. She has to stay in town, too, for he
won't open the house in Atherton until he is ready to go down himself
"Is he an old friend of your mother's?"
"She and Papa met him when they were here, and Mrs. Lawton was very kind
when I was born. It's too bad Mrs. Lawton's dead. She'd be a nice friend
"Perhaps your mother is asking Mr. Lawton's advice about the investment
He had been observing his wife closely, but it was more and more apparent
that if Mr. Lawton held the key to her mother's past she had not been
informed of the fact. She answered indifferently:
"Possibly. One can get much higher interest out here than in France, and
maman would never invest money without the best advice. She loves me, but
money next. Oh, la! la!"
"Has she said anything more about going back to Rouen?"
"I didn't have a word with her alone yesterday, but I'll ask her to-day.
Poor maman! I fancy the novelty has worn off here, and she would really
be happier with her own people and customs. She hates traveling, like all
the French; but don't you think that, after a bit we shall be able to go
over to Europe at least once a year?"
"I am sure of it. And while I am attending to business in London you
could visit your mother in Rouen. Tell her that one way or another I'll
And this seemed to him an ideal arrangement!
When they left the table and walked through the more luxurious part of
the court, they saw Madame Delano alone and enthroned as usual in the
largest but most upright of the armchairs. And as ever she watched under
her fat drooping eyelids the passing throng of smartly dressed women,
hurrying men, sauntering, staring tourists. Here and there under the
palms sat small groups of men, leaning forward, talking in low earnest
tones, their faces, whether of the keen, narrow, nervous, or of the
fleshy, heavy, square-jawed, unimaginative, aggressive, ruthless type,
equally expressing that intense concentration of mind which later would
make their luncheon a living torment.
Helene threw herself into a chair beside her mother and fondled her hand.
Ruyler noted that after Madame Delano's surprised smile of welcome she
darted a keen glance of apprehension from one to the other, and her tight
little mouth relaxed uncontrollably in its supporting walls of flesh. But
she lowered her lids immediately and looked approvingly at her daughter,
who in her new gown of gray, with gray hat and gloves and shoes, was a
dainty and refreshing picture of Spring. Then she looked at Ruyler with
what he fancied was an expression of relief.
"I wonder you do not do this oftener," she said.
"I never know until the last moment when or where I shall be able to take
lunch, and then I often have to meet three or four men. Such is life in
the city of your adoption."
"There is no city in the world where women are so abominably idle and
useless!" And at the moment, whatever Madame Delano may have been, her
voice and mien were those of a virtuous and outraged bourgeoisie. "You
are all very well, Ruyler, but if I had known what the life of a rich
young woman was in this town, I'd have married Helene to a serious young
man of her own class in Rouen; a husband who would have given her
companionship in a normal civilized life, who would have taken care of
her as every young wife should be taken care of, and who would have
insisted upon at least two children as a matter of course. With us The
Family is a religion. Here it is an incident where it is not an
Ruyler, who was still standing, looked down at his mother-in-law with
profound interest. He had never heard her express herself at such length
before. "Do you think I fail as a husband?" he asked humbly. "God knows
I'd like to give my wife about two-thirds of my time, but at least I have
perfect confidence in her. I should soon cease to care for a wife I was
obliged to watch."
"Young things are young things." Madame Delano looked at Helene, who had
turned very white and had lowered her own lids to hide the consternation
in her eyes. But as her mother ceased speaking she raised them in swift
appeal to Ruyler.
"Maman says I coquette too much," she said plaintively, and Price
wondered if a slight movement under the hem of Madame Delano's long
skirts meant that the toe of a little gray shoe were boring into one of
the massive plinths of his mother-in-law. "But tell him, maman, that you
don't really mean it. I can't have Price jealous. That would be too
humiliating. I'm afraid I do flirt as naturally as I breathe, but Price
knows I haven't a thought for a man on earth but him." The color had
crept back into her cheeks, but there was still anxiety in her soft black
eyes, and Price was sure that the little pointed toe once more made its
Madame Delano looked squarely at her son-in-law.
"That's all right--so far," she said grimly. "Helene is devoted to
you. But so have many other young wives been to busy American husbands.
Now, take my advice, and give her more of your companionship before it
is too late. _Watch over her_. There always comes a time--a
turning-point--European husbands understand, but American husbands are
fools. Woman's loyalty, fed on hope only, turns to resentment; and then
her separate life begins. Now, I've warned you. Go back to your office,
where, no doubt, your clerks are hanging out of the windows, wondering if
you are dead and the business wrecked. I want to talk to Helene."
In spite of his wise old French mother-in-law's insinuations, Ruyler felt
lighter of heart as he left the hotel and walked toward his office than
he had since Sunday. Of two things he was certain: there was no ugly
understanding between the mother and daughter over that unspeakable past,
and Madame Delano's new attitude toward her daughter was merely the
result of an over-sophisticated mother's apprehensions: those of a woman
who was looking in upon smart society for the first time and found it
alarming, and--unwelcome, but inevitable thought--peculiarly dangerous to
a young and beautiful creature with wild and lawless blood in her veins.
However, it was patent that so far her apprehensions were merely the
result of a rare imaginative flight, the result, no doubt, of her own
threatened exposure. Once more he admired her courage in returning to San
Francisco, and as he recalled the covert air of cynical triumph, with
which she had accepted his offer for her daughter's hand, he made no
doubt that one object had been to play a sardonic joke on the city she
He renewed his determination to keep what guard he could over his young
wife, and wondered if his brother Harold, who also had elected to enter
the old firm, could not be induced to come out and take over a certain
share of the responsibility. The young man had paid him a visit a year
ago and been enraptured with life in California.
True, he was accustomed to make quick decisions without consulting any
one, and he should find a partner irksome, but he was beginning to
realize acutely that business, even to an American brain, packed with its
traditions and energies, was not even the half of life, should be a means
not an end; he set his teeth as he walked rapidly along Montgomery Street
and vowed that he would keep his domestic happiness if he had to retire
on what was available of his own fortune. He even wondered if it would
not be wise to buy a fruit ranch, where he and Helene could share equally
in the management, and begin at once to raise a family. They both loved
outdoor life, and this life of complete frivolity, in which she seemed to
be hopelessly enmeshed, might before long corrode her nature and blast
the mental aspirations that still survived in that untended soil. When
this great merging deal was over he should be free to decide.
He arrived at home on the following afternoon at six and was
immediately rung up by Spaulding, who demanded an interview. It was not
worth while going down town again, as Helene was out and would no doubt
return only in time to dress for dinner. They were to dine at half-past
seven and go to the play afterward. He told Spaulding to take a taxi
and come to the house.
Nothing had occurred meanwhile to cause him anxiety. He had taken Helene
out to the Cliff House to dinner the night before, and afterward to see
the road-houses, whose dancing is so painfully proper early in the
evening. Polly Roberts had come into the most notorious of them at
eleven, chaperoning a party, which included Aileen Lawton, a girl as
restless and avid of excitement as herself. Rex Roberts and several other
young men had been in attendance, and Polly had begged Ruyler to stay on
and let his wife see something of "real life."
"This is one of the sights of the world, you know," she said, puffing her
cigarette smoke into his face. "It's _too_ middle-class to be shocked,
and not to see occasionally what you really cannot get anywhere else.
Why, there'll even be a lot of tourists here later on, and these dancers
don't do the real Apache until about one. At least leave Helene with me,
if you care more for bed than fun."
But Ruyler had merely laughed and taken his wife home. Helene had made
no protest; on the contrary had put her arm through his in the car and
her head on his shoulder, vowing she was worn out, and glad to go home.
It was only afterward that it occurred to him that she had clung to him
Spaulding entered the library without taking off his hat, and chewing a
toothpick vigorously. He began to talk at once, stretching himself out in
a Morris chair, and accepting a cigar. This time Price smoked with him.
"Well," said the detective, "it's like the game of button, button, who's
got the button? Sometimes I think I'm getting a little warmer and then I
go stone cold. But I've found out a few things, anyhow. How tall should
you say Madame Delano is? I've only seen her sitting on her throne there
in the Palace Court lookin' like an old Sphinx that's havin' a laugh all
"About five feet ten."
"The Mother Superior said six feet, but no doubt when she had figger
instead of flesh she looked taller. Well, I've discovered no less than
five tall handsome brunettes that sparkled here in the late Eighties and
early Nineties, but it's the deuce and all to get an exact description
out of anybody, especially when quite a few years have elapsed. Most
people don't see details, only effects. That's what we detectives come up
against all the time. So, whether these ladies were five feet eight, five
feet ten, or six feet, whether they had large features or small, big
hands and feet or fine points, or whether they added on all the inches
they yearned for by means of high heels or style, is beyond me. But here
He took his neat little note-book from his pocket and was about to read
it, when Ruyler interrupted him.
"But surely you know whether these women were French or not?"
"Aw, that's just what you can't always find out. Lots of 'em pretend to
be, and others--if they come from good stock in the old country--want you
to forget it. But the queens generally run to French names, as havin' a
better commercial value than Mary Jane or Ann Maria. One of these was
Marie Garnett, who wasn't much on her own but spun the wheel in Jim's
joint down on Barbary Coast, which was raided just so often for form's
sake. She always made a quick getaway, was never up in court, and died
young. Gabrielle ran an establishment down on Geary Street and was one of
the swellest lookers and swellest togged dames in her profession till the
drink got her. I can't find that she ever hooked up to a James or any one
else. Pauline-Marie was another razzle-dazzle who swooped out here from
nowhere and burrowed into quite a few fortunes and put quite a few of our
society leaders into mourning. She disappeared and I can't trace her, but
she seems to have been the handsomest of the bunch, and was fond of
showing herself at first nights, dressed straight from Paris, until some
of our war-hardened 'leaders' called upon the managers in a body and
threatened never to set foot inside their doors again unless she was kept
out, and the managers succumbed. Then there was the friend of a rich
Englishman, whose first name I haven't been able to get hold of. They
lived first at Santa Barbara, then loafed up and down the coast for a
year or two, spending quite a time in San Francisco. She was 'foreign
looking' and a stunner, all right. All of these dames drifted out about
the same time--"
"What was the Englishman's name?"
"J. Horace Medford. Front name may or may not have been James. I doubt if
his name could be found on any deeds, even in the south, where there was
no fire. He doesn't seem to have bought any property or transacted any
business. Just lived on a good-sized income. Of course, all the hotel
registers here were burnt, but I wired to Santa Barbara and Monterey and
got what I have given you.
"He had a yacht, and he took the woman with him everywhere. There was
always a flutter when they appeared at the theater. Of course she went by
his name, but as he never presented a letter all the time he was here and
it was quite obvious he could have brought all he wanted, and as men are
always 'on' anyhow, there was but one conclusion."
"Where did he bank? They might have his full name."
"Bank of California, but his remittances were sent to order of J. Horace
Medford, and, of course, he signed his cheques the same way."
"That sounds the most likely of the lot--and the most hopeful."
"Well, haven't handed you the fifth yet, and to my mind she's the most
likely of all. Ever hear of James Lawton's trouble with his wife?"
"Trouble? I thought she died."
"She--did--not. She went East suddenly about fifteen years ago, and soon
after a notice of her death appeared in the San Francisco papers. But
there was a tale of woe (for old Lawton) that I doubt if most of her own
crowd had even a suspicion of."
"Good heavens!" Ruyler recalled the apparent intimacy of his
mother-in-law and the senior member of the respectable firm of Lawton and
Cross. If "Madame Delano" were the former Mrs. Lawton, how many things
would be explained.
"This woman's name was Marie all right, and she was French, although she
seems to have been adopted by some people named Dubois and brought up in
California. She was quite the proper thing in high society, but the
trouble was that she liked another sort better. She was a regular
fly-by-night. It began when Norton Moore, a rotten limb of one of the
grandest trees in San Francisco Society--so respectable they didn't know
there was any side to life but their own--sneaked Mrs. Lawton and three
girls out of his mother's house one night when she was givin' a ball, put
'em in a hack and took 'em down to Gabrielle's. There they spent an hour
lookin' at Gabrielle's swell bunch dressed up and doin' the grand society
act with some of the men-about-town. Then they danced some and opened a
bottle or two.
"I never heard that this little jaunt hurt the girls any, but it woke up
something in Mrs. Lawton. After that--well, there are stories without
end. Won't take up your time tellin' them. The upshot was that one night
Lawton, who took a fling himself once in a while, met her at Gabrielle's
or some other joint, and she went East a day or two after. I suppose he
didn't get a divorce, partly on account of the kid--Aileen--partly
because he had no intention of trying his luck again."
"But is there any evidence that she had another child--that she
"No, but it might easy have been. This life went on for about eight
years, and it was at least five that she and Lawton merely lived under
the same roof for the sake of Aileen. They never did get on. That much,
at least, was well known. It might easy be--"
Ruyler made a rapid calculation. Aileen Lawton was just about three years
older than Helene. She was fair like her father. There was no resemblance
between her and his wife, but the intimacy between them had been
spontaneous and had never lapsed. She had grown up quite unrestrained and
spoilt, and broken three engagements, and was always rushing about
proclaiming in one breath, that California was the greatest place on
earth and in the next that she should go mad if she didn't get out and
have a change. Another grievance was that although her father let her
have her own way, or rather did not pretend to control her, he gave her a
rather niggardly allowance for her personal expenses and she was supposed
to be heavily in debt. Ruyler thought he could guess where a good deal of
his wife's spare cash had gone to. He disliked Aileen Lawton as much as
he did Polly Roberts; more, if anything, because she might have been
clever and she chose to be a fool. Both of these intimate friends of his
wife were the reverse of the superb outdoor type he admired.
"Good Lord!" he said. "I don't think there's much choice."
But in a moment he shook his head. "Too many things don't connect. Where
did she get the money to go to her relations in Rouen--"
"He pensioned her off, of course."
"And the child? How did he consent to let her return here with a daughter
he probably never had heard of--"
"I figger out, either that she came into some money from a relation over
in France, or else she has something on the old boy, and wanting to come
back here and marry her daughter, she held him up. He's a pillar of the
church, been one of the Presidents of the Pacific-Union Club, has argued
cases before the Supreme Court that have been cabled all over the
country. When a man of that sort gets to Lawton's time of life he don't
want any scandals."
"All the same," said Ruyler positively, "I don't believe it. I think it
far more likely that he was a friend of Madame Delano's husband--assuming
that she had one--and that some money was left with him in trust for her
or the child."
"Well, it may be, but I incline to Lawton--"
"There's one person would know--"
"'Gene Bisbee. But I never went to that bunch yet for any information,
and I don't go this time except as a last resort. Of course he knows, and
that is one reason I believe she is Mrs. Lawton. He was Gabrielle's
maquereau for years--when he'd wrung enough out of her he set up for
himself--Well, I ain't through yet, by a long sight. Beliefs ain't
proof." He rose slowly from the deep chair, stretched himself, and
settled his hat firmly on his head.
"What's this I hear about a wonderful ruby your wife wore up to Gwynne's
the other night? Gosh! I'd like to see a sparkler like that."
"Why, by all means."
Ruyler swung the bookcase outward, opened the safe and handed him the
ruby. Spaulding regarded it with bulging eyes, and touched it with his
finger tips much as he would a newborn babe. "Some stone!" he said, as he
handed it back, "but why in thunder don't you keep it in a safe deposit
box? There are crooks that can crack any safe, and if they got wise to
this--oh, howdy, ma'am--"
Helene had come in and stood behind the two men.
Spaulding snatched off his hat and she acknowledged her husband's
introduction graciously. She was dressed for the evening in white. Her
eyes looked abnormally large, and she kept dropping her lids as if to
keep them from setting in a stare. Her lovely mouth with its soft curves
was faded and set. The whole face was almost as stiff as a mask, and even
her graceful body was rigid. Ruyler saw Spaulding give her a sharp
"sizing-up" look, as he murmured,
"Well, so long, Guv. See you to-morrow. Hope the man'll turn out all
right after all."
"I hope so. He's a good chap otherwise."
"Good night, ma'am. Tell your husband to put that ruby in a safe
"Oh, nobody knows the safe is there except Mr. Ruyler and myself--"
"There have been safes hidden behind bookcases before," said Spaulding
dryly. "And crooks, like all the other pests of the earth, just drift
naturally to this coast. If I were you I'd have a detective on hand
whenever you wear that bit o' glass--not at a friendly affair like the
Gwynnes' dinner, of course, but--"
"Good idea!" exclaimed Ruyler. "My wife will wear the ruby to the
Thornton fete on the fourteenth. Will you be on hand to guard it?"
"Won't I? About half our force is engaged for that blow-out, but no one
but yours truly shall be guardian angel for the ruby. Well, good night
once more, and good luck."
* * * * *
As soon as the detective had gone Ruyler drew his wife to him anxiously,
"What is it, Helene? You look--well, you don't look yourself!"
"I have a headache," she said irritably. "Perhaps I'm developing nerves.
I do wish you would take me to New York. Other women get away from this
town once in a while."
"But you told me on Sunday that you adored California, that it was like
"Oh, all the women out here bluff themselves and everybody else just
so long and then suddenly go to pieces. It's a wonderful state, but
what a life! What a life! Surely I was made for something better. I
"What?" he asked sharply.
"Oh, nothing. I feel ungrateful, of course. I really should be quite
happy. Think if I had to go back to Rouen to live--after this taste of
freedom, and beauty--for California has all the beauties of youth as well
as its idiocies and vices--"
"There is not the remotest danger of your ever being obliged to live in
"Oh, I don't know. You might get tired of me. We might fight like cat and
dog for want of common interests, of something to talk about. You would
never take to drink like so many of the men, but I might--well, I'm glad
dinner is ready at last."
But she played with her food. That she was repressing an intense and
mounting excitement Ruyler did not doubt, and he also suspected that she
wished to broach some particular subject from which she turned in panic.
They were alone after coffee had been served, and he said abruptly:
"What is it, Helene? Do you want money? I have an idea that Polly Roberts
and Aileen Lawton borrow heavily from you, and that they may have cleaned
you out completely on the first--"
"How dear of you to guess--or rather to get so close. It's worse than
that. I--that is--well--poor Polly went quite mad over a pearl necklace
at Shreve's and they told her to take it and wear it for a few days,
thinking, I suppose, she would never give it up and would get the money
somehow. She--oh, it's too dreadful--she lost it--and she dares not tell
Rex--he's lost quite a lot of money lately--and she's mad with
fright--and I told her--"
"Where did she lose it? It's not easy to lose a necklace, especially when
the clasp is new."
"She thinks it was stolen from her neck at the theater--you heard what
that man said."
"Ah! What was the price of the necklace?"
"Twenty thousand dollars. The pearls weren't so very large, of course,
but Polly never had had a pearl necklace--"
"I'll let her have the money to pay for it on one condition--that it is a
transaction, between Roberts and myself--"
"No! No! Not for anything!"
"I've lent him money before--"
"But he'd never forgive Polly. He--he's one of those men who make an
awful fuss on the first of every month when his wife's bills come in."
"There must be a bass chorus on the first of every month in San
"Oh, please don't jest. She must have this money."
"She may have it--on those terms. I'll have no business dealings with
women of the Polly Roberts sort. That would be the last I'd ever see of
the twenty thousand--"
"I never thought you were stingy!"
Ruyler, in spite of his tearing anxiety, laughed outright. "Is that your
idea of how the indulgent American husband becomes rich?"
"Oh--of course I wouldn't have you lose such a sum. I really have learned
the value of money in the abstract, although I can't care for it as much
as men do."
"I have no great love of money, but there is a certain difference between
a miser and a levelheaded business man--"
"Price, I must have that money. Polly--oh, I am afraid she will
"Not she. A more selfish little beast never breathed. She'll squeeze the
money out of some one, never fear! But I think I'll lock up your jewels
in case you are tempted to raise money on them for her--Darling!"
Helene, without a sound, had fainted.
They had intended to go to the theater but Ruyler put her to bed at
once. He offered to read to her, but she turned her back on him with
cold disdain, and he went to the little invisible cupboard where she
kept her own jewels and took out the heavy gold box which had been the
wedding present of one of his California business friends who owned a
"I shall put this in the safe," he said incisively, "for, while I admire
your stanchness in friendship, even for such an unworthy object as Polly
Roberts, I do not propose that my wife shall be selling or pawning her
jewels for any reason whatever. Think over the proposal I made
downstairs. If Polly is willing I'll lend Roberts the money to-morrow."
She had thrown an arm over her face and she made no reply. He went down
stairs and put the box in the safe. It occurred to him that she had
watched him open and close the safe several times but she certainly never
had written the combination down, and it had taken him a long while to
commit it to memory himself.
He had glanced over the contents of the box before he locked it in. The
jewels were all there, the string of pearls that he had given her on
their marriage day, a few wedding presents, and several rings and
trinkets he had bought for her since. The value was perhaps twenty
thousand dollars, for he had told her that she must wait several years
before he could give her the jewels of a great lady. When she was thirty,
and really needed them to make up for fading charms--it had been one of
their pleasant little jokes.
As Ruyler set the combination he sighed and wondered whether their days
of joking were over. Their life had suddenly shot out of focus and it
would require all his ingenuity and patience, aided by friendly
circumstance, to swing it into line again. He did not believe a word of
the necklace story. Somebody was blackmailing the poor child. If he could
only find out who! He made up his mind suddenly to put this problem also
in the hands of Spaulding for solution. The question of his
mother-in-law's antecedents was important enough, but that of his wife's
happiness and his own was paramount.
He decided to go to the theater himself, for he was in no condition for
sleep or the society of men at the club, nor could any book hold his
attention. He prayed that the play would be reasonably diverting.
He walked down town and as he entered the lobby of the Columbia at the
close of the first act he saw 'Gene Bisbee and D.V. Bimmer, who was now
managing a hotel in San Francisco, standing together. He also saw Bisbee
nudge Bimmer, and they both stared at him openly, the famous hotel man
with some sympathy in his wise secretive eyes, the reformed peer of the
underworld with a certain speculative contempt.
Ruyler, to his intense irritation, felt himself flushing, and wondered if
the man's regard might be translated: "Just how much shall I be able to
touch him for?" He wished he would show his hand and dissipate the
damnable web of mystery which Fate seemed weaving hourly out of her
bloated pouch, but he doubted if Bisbee, or whoever it was that tormented
his wife, would approach him save as a last resource. They were clever
enough to know that her keenest desire would be to keep the disgraceful
past from the knowledge of her husband, rather than from a society
seasoned these many years to erubescent pasts.
Moreover it is always easier to blackmail a woman than a man, and Price
Ruyler could not have looked an easy mark to the most optimistic of
He found it impossible to fix his mind on the play; the cues of the first
act eluded him, and the characters and dialogue were too commonplace to
make the story negligible.
At the end of the second act Ruyler made up his mind to go home and try
to coax his wife back into her customary good temper, pet her and make
her forget her little tragedy. He still hesitated to broach the subject
to her directly, but it was possible that by some diplomatically
analogous tale he could surprise her into telling him the truth.
During the long drive he turned over in his mind the data Spaulding had
placed before him during the afternoon. He rejected the theory that
Madame Delano was Mrs. Lawton as utterly fantastic, but admitted a
connection. Helene had spoken more than once of Mrs. Lawton's kindness to
"maman" when her baby was born during her "enforced stay in San
Francisco," and it was quite possible that the two had been friends, and
that the young mother had adopted the name of Dubois when calling upon
the nuns of the convent at St. Peter, either because it would naturally
occur to her, or from some deeper design which, he could not fathom....
Yes, the connection with Mrs. Lawton was indisputable and it remained for
him to "figger out" as Spaulding would say, which of these women, the
gambler's wife, the notorious "Madam," Gabrielle, the briefly coruscating
Pauline Marie, or the Englishman's mistress, a woman of Mrs. Lawton's
position would be most likely to befriend.
The first three might be dismissed without argument. She had been no
frequenter of "gambling joints" whatever her peccadilloes; Gabrielle,
he happened to know, had died some eight or ten years ago, and
Mademoiselle Pauline Marie, if she had had a child, which was extremely
doubtful, was the sort that sends unwelcome offspring post haste to the
There remained only the spurious Mrs. Medford, and she was the
probability on all counts. What more likely than that she and Mrs. Lawton
had met at one of the great winter hotels in Southern California, and
foregathered? Certainly they would be congenial spirits.
When the baby came Mrs. Lawton would naturally see her through her
trouble, and advise her later what to do with the child. No doubt,
Medford found it in the way.
After that Ruyler could only fumble. Did Medford desert the woman,
driving her on the stage?--or elsewhere? Did they start for Japan, and
did he die on the voyage? Did he merely give the woman a pension and tell
her to go back to Rouen, or to the devil? It was positive that when
Helene was five years old Madame Delano had gone back to her relatives
with some trumped up story and been received by them.
Moreover, this theory coincided with, his belief that Helene's father
was a gentleman. No doubt he had been already married when he met the
young French girl, superbly handsome, and intelligent--possibly at one
of the French watering places, even in Rouen itself, swarming with
tourists in Summer. They might have met in the spacious aisles of the
Cathedral, she risen from her prayers, he wandering about, Baedeker in
hand, and fallen in love at sight. One of Earth's million romances,
regenerating the aged planet for a moment, only to sink back and
disappear into her forgotten dust.
His own romance? What was to be the end of that!
But he returned to his argument. He wanted a coherent story to tell his
wife, and he wanted also to believe that his wife's father had been a
Medford, like so many of his eloping kind, had made instinctively for
California with the beautiful woman he loved but could not marry. Santa
Barbara, Ruyler had heard, had been the favorite haven for two
generations of couples fleeing from irking bonds in the societies of
England and the continent of Europe. Southern California combined a wild
independence with a languor that blunted too sensitive nerves, offered an
equable climate with months on end of out of door life, boating,
shooting, riding, driving, motoring, romantic excursions, and even sport
if a distinguished looking couple played the game well and told a
Breeding was a part of Ruyler's religion, as component in his code as
honor, patriotism, loyalty, or the obligation of the strong to protect
the weak. Far better the bend sinister in his own class than a legitimate
parent of the type of 'Gene Bisbee or D.V. Bimmer. Ruyler was a "good
mixer" when business required that particular form of diplomacy, and the
familiarities of Jake Spaulding left his nerves unscathed, but in bone
and brain cells he was of the intensely respectable aristocracy of
Manhattan Island and he never forgot it. He had surrendered to a girl of
no position without a struggle, and made her his wife, but it is doubtful
if he would even have fallen in love with her if she had been underbred
in appearance or manner. He had never regretted his marriage for a
moment, not even since this avalanche of mystery and portending scandal
had descended upon him; if possible he loved his troubled young wife more
than ever--with a sudden instinct that worse was to come he vowed that
nothing should ever make him love her less.
When he arrived at his house he found two notes on the hall table
addressed to himself. The first was from Helene and read:
"Polly telephoned that she would send her car for me to go down to the
Fairmont and dance. I cannot sleep so I am going. _She cannot sleep
either_! Forgive me if I was cross, but I am terribly worried for her.
Don't wait up for me. Helene."
He read this note with a frown but without surprise. It was to be
expected that she would seek excitement until her present fears were
allayed and her persecutors silenced.
He determined to order Spaulding to have her shadowed constantly for at
least a fortnight and note made of every person in whose company she
appeared to be at all uneasy, whether they were of her own set or not. It
would also be worth while to have Madame Delano's rooms watched, for it
was possible that she would summon Helene there to meet Bisbee or others
of his ilk.
Then he picked up the other note. It was from Spaulding, and as he read
it all his finespun theories vanished and once more he was adrift on an
uncharted sea without a landmark in sight.
"Dear Sir," began the detective, who was always formal on paper. "I've
just got the information required from Holbrook Centre. We didn't half
believe there was such a place, if you remember? Well there is, and
according to the parish register Marie Jeanne Perrin was married to James
Delano on July 25th, 1891. She was there, visiting some French
relations--they went back soon after--and he had left there when he was
about sixteen and had only come back that once to see his mother, who was
dying. Nothing seems to have been known about him in his home town except
a sort of rumor that he was a bad lot and lived somewheres in California.
Can you beat it? But don't think I'm stumped. I'm working on a new line
and I'm not going to say another word until I've got somewheres.
"Delano's father was a Forty-niner, and lived in California till 1860,
when he went home to H. C. and died soon after. There were wild stories
about him, too."
During the next few days Ruyler saw little of his wife. He was obliged to
take two business trips out of town and as he could not return until ten
o'clock at night he advised her to have company to dinner and take her
guests to the play. But she preferred to dine with Polly Roberts and
Aileen Lawton, and she spent her days for the most part at Burlingame,
motoring down with one or more of her friends, or sent for by some
enthusiastic girl admirer already established there for the summer.
Ruyler was quite willing to forego temporarily his plan of personal
guardianship, as the more she roamed abroad unattended the better could
Spaulding watch her associates. The detective had his agents in society,
as well as in the Palace Hotel, and on the third day he sent a brief note
to Ruyler announcing that he had "lit on to something" that would make
his employer's "hair curl, but no more at present from yours truly."
"This time," he added, "I'm on the right track and know it. No more fancy
theories. But I won't say a word till I can deliver the goods. Give your
wife all the rope you can."
Price and Helene met briefly and amiably and she did not again broach the
subject of the loan for her friend, nor did she ask for her jewels. It
was apparent that she was proudly determined to conceal whatever terrors
or even worries that might haunt her, but the effort deprived her of all
her native vivacity; she was almost formal in manner and her white face
grew more like a classic mask daily.
On the evening before the Thornton fete, however, Price was able to dine
at home. They met at table and he saw at once that she either had
recovered her spirits or was making a deliberate attempt to create the
impression of a carefree young woman happy in a tete-a-tete dinner with a
Her talk for the most part was of the great entertainment at San Mateo.
The weather promised to be simply magnificent. Wasn't that exactly like
Flora Thornton's luck? The immense grounds were simply swarming with
workmen; wagon-loads of all sorts of things went through the gates after
every train--simply one procession after another; but no one else could
so much as get her nose through those gates.
Helene, with all her old childish glee, related how she and Aileen, Polly
(who apparently had forgotten her impending doom), and two or three other
girls, had called up Mrs. Thornton on the telephone every ten minutes for
an hour--pretending it was long distance to make sure of a personal
response--and begged to be allowed to go over and see the preparations,
until finally, in a towering rage, her ladyship had replied that if they
called her again she would withdraw her invitations.
"How we did long for an airship. It would have been such fun, for she
does so disapprove of all of us; thinks us a little flock of silly geese.
Well, we are, I guess, but wasn't she one herself once? She has a pretty
hard time even now making life interesting for herself--out here, anyhow.
"Yesterday we motored down to Menlo and dropped in at the Maynards. There
were a lot of the props of San Francisco society, all as rich as croesus,
sitting on the veranda crocheting socks or sacks for a crop of new babies
that are due. One or two were hemstitching lawn, or embroidering a
monogram, or something else equally useless or virtuous. They were
talking mild gossip, and didn't even have powder on. It was ghastly--"
"Helene," said Ruyler abruptly, "what do you think is the secret of
happiness--I mean, of course, the enduring sort--perhaps content would be
the better word. Happiness is too dependent upon love, and love was never
meant for daily food. You are not by nature frivolous, and you are
capable of thought. Have you ever given any to the secret of content?"
"Yes, work," she answered promptly. "Everybody should have his daily job,
prescribed either by the state or by necessity; but something he must do
if both he and society would continue to exist."
Ruyler elevated his eyebrows and looked at her curiously. "Socialism. I
didn't know you had ever heard of it."
"Aileen and I are not such fools as we look--as you were good enough to
intimate just now. We went to a series of lectures early last winter over
at the University, on Socialism--a lot of us formed a class, but all
except Aileen and I dropped out.
"We continued to read for a time after the lectures were over, but of
course that didn't last. One drops everything for want of stimulus, and
when one begins to flutter again one is lost.
"But I heard and read and thought enough to deduce that the only vital
interest in life after one's secret happiness--which one would not dare
spread out too thin if one could in this American life--is necessary work
well done. And that is quite different from those fussy interests and
fads we create or take up for the sake of thinking we are busy and
"Polly's mother once told me she never was so happy in her life as during
those weeks after the earthquake and fire when all the servants had run
away and she had to cook for the family out in the street on a stove they
bought down in a little shop in Polk Street and set up and surrounded on
three sides by 'inside blinds.' She happened to have a talent for
cooking, and without her the family would have starved. Polly tied a
towel round her head and did the housework, or stood in a line and got
the daily rations from the Government. She never thought once of--"
"Oh, of doing anything rather than expire of boredom. She and Rex had
been married a year and were living at home. Rex and Mr. Carter helped
excavate down in the business district, as the working class wouldn't
lift a finger as long as the Government was feeding them."
"There you are! Their ideal is complete leisure, and that of our delicate
products of the highest civilization--compulsory jobs! What does progress
mean but the leisure to enjoy the arts and all the finer fruits of
progress? What else do we men really work for?"
"Progress has gone too far and defeated its own ends. Every healthy human
being should be forced to work six hours a day.
"That would leave eight for sleep and ten for enjoyment of the arts and
luxuries. Then we really should enjoy them, and if we couldn't have them
unless we did our six hours' stint, ennui and the dissipations that it
breeds would be unknown.
"I can tell you it is demoralizing, disintegrating, to wake up morning
after morning--about ten o'clock!--and know that you have nothing worth
while to do for another day--for all the days!--that you have no place in
the world except as an ornament! Women of limited incomes and a family of
growing children have enough, to do, of course--too much--they never can
feel superfluous and demoralized--except by envy--but as for us! Why, I
can tell you, it is a marvel we don't all go straight to the devil."
They were alone with the coffee, and she was pounding the table with her
little fist. Her cheeks were deeply flushed and her black somber eyes
were opening and closing rapidly, as if alternately magnetized by some
ugly vision and sweeping it aside.
Price watched her with deep interest and deeper anxiety. "A good many
women go to the devil," he said. "But you are not that sort."
"Oh, I don't know. I never could get up enough interest in another man to
solve the problem in the usual way--but there are other
"What?" Price sat up very straight.
"Oh, dance ourselves into tuberculosis," she said lightly, and dropping
her eyelashes. "And tuberculosis of the mind, certainly. On the whole, I
think I prefer physical to spiritual death....
"However--I found out one thing to-day. The dancing is to be out of
doors. There will be an immense arbor or something of the sort erected
on the lawn above the sunken garden. My gown is a dream and I shall wear
"Yes," he said smiling. "You shall wear the ruby. But you must expect me
to keep very close to you--"
"The closer the better." She smiled charmingly. "Have you tried on
"I haven't even looked at it. Who am I?"
"Caesar Borgia. You are not much like him yourself, darling, but I
thought he was not so very unlike modern American business, as a whole."
Ruyler laughed. "Why not Machiavelli? But as no doubt it is black velvet,
much puffed and slashed, I may hope it will be becoming to my nondescript
fairness. You must promise not to wander off for long walks with any of
your admirers. Not that I fear the admirers, but the thieves that are
bound to get into that crowd one way or another. They have a way of
unclasping necklaces even of the most circumspect wives in the company of
not too absorbing men."
Her eyes opened and flashed, but he had no time to analyze that fleeting
expression before she was promising volubly not to wander from the
* * * * *
He interrupted her suddenly. They were in the library now, and sat down
on a little sofa in front of the window. The moon was high and brilliant
and the great expanse of water with the high clusters of lights on the
islands, the sharp hard silhouette of the encircling mountains, the green
and silver stars so high above, the moving golden dots of an incoming
liner from Japan, the long rows of arc lights along the shore, made a
landscape of the night that Mrs. Thornton with all her millions hardly
"Are you not grateful for this?" he asked whimsically and a little
"Oh, Price, dear, I am more grateful than you will ever know. I have not
a fault on earth to find with you. You would be the prince of the fairy
tale if you were not so busy.
"But that is the tragedy. You are busy--I am not."
"Well, let us have the personal solution--one that fits ourselves. You
have time to think it out. I, alas! have not." He took her hand and
fondled it, hoping for her confidence.
"I don't know." She had a deep rich voice and she could make it very
intense. "I only know there must--must--be a change--if--if--I am
to--Can't you take me abroad for a year? That might not be work, but at
least I should be learning some thing--I have traveled almost not at
all--and, at least, I should have you."
"But later? Most of your friends have spent a good deal of time in
Europe. I doubt if any state in the Union goes to Europe as often as
California! They are all the more discontented when they come back here
to vegetate--as Mrs. Thornton would express it.
"It would be a blessed interval, but no more."
"We should have time to think out a new and different life....
"You know--in the class I come from--in France--the women are the
partners of their husbands. Even in the higher bourgeoisie, that is,
where they still are in business, not living on great inherited
"My uncle had a small silk house in Rouen, and my aunt kept the books
and attended to all the correspondence. He always said she was the
cleverer business man of the two; but French women have a real genius
for business. Some of our great ladies help their husbands manage
"It is only the few that live for pleasure and glitter in the most
glittering city in the world that have furnished the novelists the
material to give the world a false impression of France.
"The majority live such sober, useful, busy lives that only the highest
genius could make people read about them.
"Of course, young girls dream of something far more brilliant, and wait
eagerly for the husband who shall deliver them from their narrow
restricted little spheres... perhaps take them to the great world of
Paris; but they settle down, even in Paris, and devote themselves to
their husbands' interests, which are their own, and to their children....
"That is it! They are indispensable--not as women, but as partners. I
barely know what your business is about--only that you are in some
tremendous wholesale commission thing with tentacles that reach half
round the world.
"Only the wives of politicians are any real help to their husbands in
this country. Isabel Gwynne! What a help she will be--has been--to Mr.
Gwynne. But then she was always busy. When her uncle died he left her
that little ranch and scarcely anything else, she took to raising
chickens--not to fuss about and fill in her time, but to keep a roof over
her head and have enough to eat and wear. I doubt if she ever was bored
in her life."
"I can't take you into the business, sweetheart," said Ruyler slowly.
"For that would violate the traditions of a very old conservative house.
But I can quite see that something must be done....
"I married you to make you happy and to be happy myself. I do not intend
that our marriage shall be a failure. It is possible that Harold would
consent to come out here and take my place. The business no longer
requires any great amount of initiative, but the most unremitting
vigilance. I have thought--it has merely passed through my mind--but you
might hate it--how would you like it if I bought a large fruit ranch,
several thousand acres, and put up a canning factory besides? I would
make you a full partner and you would have to give to your share of the
work considerably more than six hours of the day--
"We could build a large, plain, comfortable house, take all our books and
pictures, subscribe to all the newspapers, magazines and reviews, keep up
with everything that is going on in the world, have house parties once in
a while, come to town for a few weeks in summer for the plays.
"We should live practically an out-of-door life--if you preferred we
could buy a cattle ranch in the south. That would mean the greater part
of the day in the saddle--
"How does it appeal to you?"
He had turned off the electricity, but as he fumbled with his
embryonic idea he saw her eyes sparkle and a light of passionate hope
dawn on her face.
"Oh, I should love it! But love it! Especially the fruit ranch. That
would be like France--our orchards are as wonderful as yours, even if
nothing could be as big as a California ranch--
"That is, if it would not be a makeshift. Another form of playing at
"I can assure you that we will have to make it pay or go to the wall. My
father would probably disinherit me, for it would be breaking another
tradition, and he compliments me by believing that I am the best business
man in the firm at present.
"My only capital would be such of my fortune as is not tied up in the
House--about a hundred thousand dollars in Government bonds. Of course,
in time, if all goes well, and California does not have another
setback--if business improves all over the world--I shall be able to take
the rest of my money out, that I put into this end of the business after
the fire; but that may be ten years hence. I shouldn't even ask for
interest on it--that would be the only compensation I could offer for
deserting the firm.
"Perhaps I had better buy a cattle ranch. Then, if we fail, I shall at
least have had the training of a cowboy and can hire out."
Helene laughed and clapped her hands.
"Fail? You? But I should help you to make it a success--I should be
"Indispensable. Either you or another partner."
"No! No! I shall be the partner--"
"And you mean that you would be willing to bury your youth, your beauty,
on a ranch? I have heard bitter confidences out here from women forced to
waste their youth on a ranch. You are one of the fine flowers of
"That soon wither in the hothouse atmosphere. I wish to become a hardy
annual. And when the ranch was running like a clock we could take a month
or two in Europe every year or so--"
"Rather! And I could show you off--Bother! I'll not answer."
The telephone bell on the little table in the corner (his own private
wire) rang so insistently that Ruyler finally was magnetized reluctantly
across the room. He put the receiver to his ear and asked, "Well?" in his
most inhospitable tones.
The answer came in Spaulding's voice, and in a moment he sat down.
At the end of ten minutes he hung the receiver on the hook and returned
to find Helene standing by the window, all the light gone from her eyes,
staring out at the hard brilliant scene with an expression of
hopelessness that had relaxed the very muscles of her face.
Ruyler was shocked, and more apprehensive than he had yet been. "Helene!"
he exclaimed. "What is the matter? Surely you may confide in me if you
are in trouble."
"Oh, but I am not," she replied coldly. "Did I look odd? I was just
wondering how many really happy people there were behind those
lights--over on Belvedere, at Sausalito--the lights look so golden and
steady and sure--and glimpses of interiors at night are always so
fascinating--but I suppose most of the people are commonplace and just
"Well, I am afraid I have something to tell you that hardly will restore
your delightful gayety of a few moments ago. I am sorry--but--well, the
fact is I must leave for the north to-morrow morning and hardly shall be
able to return before the next night. I am really distressed. I wanted so
much to take you to-morrow night--"
"And I can't wear the ruby?" Her voice was shrill. Ruyler wondered if his
stimulated imagination fancied a note of terror in it.
"I--I--am afraid not--darling--"
"But that Spaulding man will be there to watch--"
"Unfortunately--I forgot to tell you--he cannot go--he is on an important
case. Besides--when I make a promise I usually keep it."
"But--but--" She stammered as if her brain were confused, then turned and
pressed her face to the window. "I suppose nothing matters," she said
dully. "Perhaps you will let me wear my own little ruby. After all, that
was maman's, and she gave it to me before I was married. I should like to
wear one jewel."
"You shall have all your jewels, if you will promise not to give them to
Polly Roberts or any one else."
He went over and opened the safe, and when he rose with the gold jewel
case he saw that she was standing behind him. Once more it flitted
through his mind that she had watched him manipulate the combination
several times, but he had little confidence in any but a professional
thief's ability to memorize such an involved assortment of figures as had
been invented for this particular safe. It was only once in a while that
he was not obliged to refer to the key that he carried in his pocketbook.
Nor was she looking at the safe, but staring upward at a maharajah,
covered with pearls of fantastic size. She took the box from his hand
with a polite word of thanks, offered her cheek to be kissed, and
left the room.
Price threw himself into a chair and rehearsed the instructions Spaulding
had given him.
It was half-past eleven when Ruyler and Spaulding, masked and wearing
colored silk dominoes, entered the great gates of the Thornton estate in
San Mateo, the detective merely displaying something in his palm to the
stern guardians that kept the county rabble at bay.
The mob stood off rather grumblingly, for they would have liked to get
closer to that gorgeous mass of light they could merely glimpse through
the great oaks of the lower part of the estate, and to the music so
seductive in the distance.
They were not a rabble to excite pity, by any means. A few ragged tramps
had joined the crowd, possibly a few pickpockets from the city, watching
their opportunity to slip in behind one of the automobiles that brought
the guests from the station or from the estates up and down the valley.
They were, for the most part, trades-people from the little towns--San
Mateo, Redwood City--or the wives of the proletariat--or the servants of
the neighboring estates. But, although, they grumbled and envied, they
made no attempt to force their way in; it was only the light-fingered
gentry the police at the great iron gates were on the lookout for.
Ruyler, if his mind had been less harrowed with the looming and possibly
dire climax of his own secret drama, would have laughed aloud at this
melodramatic entrance to the grounds of one of his most intimate friends.
He and Spaulding had walked from the train, but they were not detained as
long as a gay party of young people from Atherton, who teased the police
by refusing to present their cards or lift their masks. Ruyler knew them
all, but they finally sped past him without even a glance of contempt for
mere foot passengers, even though they looked like a couple of dodging
He had met Spaulding at the station in San Francisco, and private
conversation on the crowded train had been impossible. When they had
walked a few yards along the wide avenue, as brilliant as day with its
thousands of colored lights concealed in the astonished pines, Ruyler sat
deliberately down upon a bench and motioned the detective to take the
seat beside him.
"It is time you gave me some sort of a hint," he said. "After all, it is
"I know, but as I said, you might not approve my methods, and if you
balk, all is up. We've got the chance of our lives. It's now or never."
"I do not at all like the idea that you may be forcing me into a position
where I may find myself doing something I shall be ashamed of for the
rest of my life."
Ruyler's tone was haughty. He did not relish being led round by the nose,
and his nerves were jumping.
"Now! Now!" said Spaulding soothingly, as he lit a cigar. "When you hire
a detective you hire him to do things you wouldn't do yourself; and if
you won't give him the little help he's got to have from you or quit,
what's the use of hiring him at all?
"I know perfectly well that nothing but your own eyes would convince you
of what it's up to me to prove--to say nothing of the fact that I count
on your entrance at the last minute to put an end to the whole bad
business. For it is a bad business--believe me. But not a word of that
now. You couldn't pry open my lips with a five dollar Havana."
"Well--you say you had a talk with Madame Delano to-day. Surely you can
tell me some of the things you have discovered."
"A whole lot. I've been waiting for the chance. Not that I got anything
out of her. She's one grand bluffer and no mistake. I take off my hat to
her. When I told her that I could lay hands on the proof that she was
Marie Garnett--although Jim had married her in his home town under his
own name--and that she'd gone home to France with the kid when it was
five, taking the cue from her friend, Mrs. Lawton, and sending word back
she was dead--"
"You were equally sure a few days ago that she was Mrs. Lawton--"
"That was just my constructive imagination on the loose. It was a lovely
theory, and I sort of hung on to it. But I had no real data to go on. Now
I've got the evidence that Jim Garnett died two months before the fire
burnt up pretty nearly all the records, and that his body was shipped
back to Holbrook Centre to be buried in the family plot. You see, he was
sick for some time out on Pacific Avenue, and his death was registered
where the fire didn't go--"
"But what put you on?" asked Ruyler impatiently. "I should almost rather
it had been any one else. He seems to have been about as bad a lot as
even this town ever turned out."
"He was, all right, and his father before him, although they came from
mighty fine folks back east. His father came out in '49 with the gold
rush crowd, panned out a good pile, and then, liking the life--San
Francisco was a gay little burg those days--opened one of the crack
gambling houses down on the Old Plaza. Plate glass windows you could look
through from outside if you thought it best to stay out, and see hundreds
of men playing at tables where the gold pieces--often slugs--were piled
as high as their noses, and hundreds more walking up and down the aisles
either waiting for a chance to sit, or hoping to appease their hunger
with the sight of so much gold. They didn't try any funny business, for
every gambler had a six-shooter in his hip pocket, and sometimes on the
table beside him.
"Sometimes men would walk out and shoot themselves on the sidewalk in
front of the windows, and not a soul inside would so much as look up.
Well, Delano the first had a short life but a merry one. He couldn't keep
away from the tables himself, and first thing he knew he was broke, sold
up. He went back to the mines, but his luck had gone, and his wife--she
had followed him out here--persuaded him to go back home and live in the
old house, on a little income she had; and he bored all the neighbors to
death for a few years about 'early days in California' until he dropped
off. Her name was Mary Garnett.
"That's what put me on--the G. in the middle of the name of the man
Madame Delano married. I telegraphed to Holbrook Centre to find out what
his middle name was, and after that it was easy. I also found out that he
was born in California, and I guess that old wild life was in his blood.
He stood Holbrook Centre until he was sixteen, and then homed back and
took up the trade he just naturally had inherited.
"I figger out that he didn't tell his wife the truth when he married her
back there, not until he was on the train pretty close to S.F., and then
he told her because he couldn't help himself. She couldn't help herself,
either, and besides she was in love with him. He was a handsome,
distinguished lookin' chap, and he kept right on bein' a fascinator as
long as he lived.
"I guess that's the reason she left him in the end. She stood for the
gambling joint, and, although she had a cool sarcastic way with her that
kept the men who fell for her at a distance, she was a good decoy, and
she looked a regular queen at the head of the green table. She was chummy
with Jim's intimates, two of whom were D.V. Bimmer and 'Gene Bisbee, but
even 'Gene didn't dare take any liberties with her.
"It was natural that a woman brought up as she had been should have kept
her child out of it, and I figger that she got disgusted with Jim and
came to the full sense of her duty to the poor kid about the same time.
But she didn't go until Jim settled so much a month on her through old
Lawton--who used to amuse himself at Garnett's a good deal in those days,
and who was one of her best friends.
"Well, she also got Garnett to make a curious sort of a will, leaving his
money to James Lawton, to 'dispose of as agreed upon.' She had a thrifty
business head, had that French dame, and she had made him buy property
when he was flush, and put it in her name, although she gave a written
agreement never to sell out as long as he lived.
"He agreed to let her go because he was dippy about another skirt at the
time, and, besides, she played on his family pride--lineal descendant of
the Delanos, Garnetts, and so forth. He'd never seen the kid after it was
taken to the convent, but I guess he liked the idea, all right, of its
being brought up wearing the old name, and gettin' rid of Marie at the
"She was too canny to leave him a loophole for divorce, even in
California; but I guess that didn't worry him much.
"If the earthquake and fire hadn't come so soon after the will was
probated there might have been a lot of speculation about it, among men,
at least. Those old gossips in the Club windows would soon have been
putting two and two together; but the calamity that burnt up all the Club
windows, just swept it clean out of their heads.
"I figger out that old Lawton continued to pay Madame Delano the income
she'd been havin' both from Jim and her properties, out of his own
pocket, until the city was rebuilt and he could settle the estate. He had
to borrow the money to rebuild the houses Jim had put up on his wife's
property, and when things got to a certain pass he wrote Madame D. to
come along and take over her property. She'll be good and rich one of
these days, when all the mortgages are paid off and Lawton paid back, but
it was wise for her to stay on the job. Lawton is dead straight, but his
partner is sowing wild oats in his old age--good old S.F. style, and I
guess it ain't wise to tempt him too far. Get me?"
"Oh, not nearly so bad as it might be. Just think, if it had been
Gabrielle, or Pauline-Marie, or even Mrs. Lawton. That's the worst kind
of bad blood for a woman to inherit. Marie Garnett hung on like grim
death to what the grand society you move in pretends to value most, and
the Lord knows she'll never lose it now.
"Nor need there be any scandal to drive your family to suicide. The thing
to do is to hustle Madame Delano out of San Francisco. She'll go, all
right, with you to look after her interests. She don't fancy being
recognized and blackmailed, or I miss my guess. You may have to pay
Bisbee something, but D. V.'s not that sort, and I don't think anybody
else is on. If they've suspected they'll soon forget it when the old lady
disappears from the Palace Hotel. Gee, but she has a nerve."
"She is an old cynic. If she had any snobbery in her she'd be here
to-night, rubbing elbows with the women who never knew of her existence
twenty years ago, although their husbands did. It has satisfied her
ironic French soul to sit in the court of the Palace Hotel day after day
and defy San Francisco to recognize Marie Garnett in the obese Madame
Delano, whose daughter is one of the great ladies of the city to whose
underworld she once belonged, and from whose filthy profits she derives
her income. Good God!"
He sat forward and clutched his head, but Spaulding, who had drawn out
his watch, tapped him on the shoulder.
"Come on," he said. "Time's gettin' short. The stunt is to be pulled off
just before supper."
They walked rapidly up the close avenue--planted far back in the Fifties
by Ford Thornton's grandfather--the blaze of light at the end of the long
perspective growing wider and wider. As they emerged they paused for a
moment, dazzled by the scene.
The original home of the Thorntons had been of ordinary American
architecture and covered with ivy; it might have been transplanted from
some old aristocratic village in the East. Flora Thornton had maintained
that only one style of architecture was appropriate in a state settled by
the Spaniards, and famous for its missions of Moorish architecture. Fordy
loved the old house, but as he denied his wife nothing he had given her a
million, three years before the fire which so sadly diminished fortunes,
and told her to build any sort of house she pleased; if she would only
promise to live in it and not desert him twice a year for Europe.
The immense structure, standing on a knoll, bore a certain resemblance to
the Alhambra, with its heavy square towers; its arched gateways leading
into courtyards with fountains or sunken pools, the red brown of the
stucco which looked like stone and was not. To-night it was blazing with
lights of every color.
So were the ancient oaks, which were old when the Alhambra was built,
the shrubberies, the vast rose garden. The surface of the pool in the
sunken garden reflected the green or red masses of light that shot up
every few moments from the four corners of the terrace surrounding it.
On the lawn just above and to the right of the house, a platform had
been built for dancing; it was enclosed on three sides with an arbor of
many alcoves, lined with flowers, soft lights concealed in depending
clusters of oranges.
And everywhere there were people dressed in costumes, gorgeous,
picturesque, impressive, historic, or recklessly invented, but suggesting
every era when dress counted at all. They danced on the great platform to
the strains of the invisible band, strolled along the terraces above the
sunken garden, wandered through the groves and "grounds," or sat in the
windows of the great house or in its courts. All wore the little black
satin mask prescribed by Mrs. Thornton, and created an illusion that
transported the imagination far from California. Ruyler had a whimsical
sense of being on another star where the favored of the different periods
of Earth had foregathered for the night.
But there was nothing ghostly in the shrill chatter as incessant as the
twitter of the agitated birds, who found their night snatched from them
and hardly knew whether to scold or join in the chorus.
Ruyler had always protested against the high-pitched din made by even six
American women when gathered together, and to the infernal racket at any
large entertainment; but to-night he sighed, forgetting his apprehensions
for the moment.
He had exquisite memories of these lovely grounds; he and Helene had
spent several days with Mrs. Thornton during their engagement, and she
had lent them the house for their honeymoon; he would have liked to
wander through the pleasant spaces with his wife to-night and make love
to her, instead of spying on her in the company of a detective.
For that, he was forced to conclude, was what he had been brought for.
Spaulding had mentioned her name casually, when telling him that he must
be on hand to nab the "party" who was at the bottom of the whole trouble;
but Spaulding hardly could have watched the person who was blackmailing
without including her in his surveillance. He wished now that he had left
that part of the mystery to take care of itself, trusting to his
mother-in-law's departure to relieve the situation. No doubt she would
have told him the truth herself rather than leave her daughter to the
mercy of the men who knew her secret.
But he was still far from suspecting the worst of the truth.
There were a number of men in fancy dominoes; he and Spaulding crossed
the lawn in front of the house unchallenged and, passing under the
frowning archway, entered the first of the courts.
The oblong sunken pool was banked with myrtle, and above, as well as in
the great inner court with the fountain, there were narrow arcaded
windows with fluttering silken curtains. Mrs. Thornton had too satiric a
sense of humor to have had the famous arabesques of the Alhambra
reproduced any more than the massive coats-of-arms above the arches, but
the walls were delicately colored, the delicate columns looked like old
ivory, and the greatest of the local architects had been entirely
successful in combining the massiveness of the warrior stronghold with
the airy lightness and spaciousness of the pleasure house.
The bedrooms, Ruyler told Spaulding, were all as modern as they were
luxurious, and the library, living-rooms, and dining-room, were in the
best American style. Fordy had rebelled at too much "Spanish atmosphere,"
his blood being straight Anglo-Saxon, and Mrs. Thornton always knew when
to yield. Nevertheless, Flora Thornton had built the proper setting for
her barbaric beauty, and, possibly, spirit.
People were sitting about the courts on piles of colored silken cushions,
those that had got themselves up in Eastern costumes having drifted
naturally to the suitable surroundings; for, after all, the Moors had
"Don't let's hang round here," said the detective, "and don't stand
holding yourself like a ramrod--like that gent out there with the ruff
that must be taking the skin off his chin. I kinder thought I'd like to
see the whole show, but we'd best go now and wait for our little turn."
He led the way round the building to the rear of the southwest tower.
There was a little grove of jasmine trees just beneath it, that made the
air overpoweringly sweet, but there were no lights on this side, as the
garages, stables, vegetable gardens, and servants' quarters would have
destroyed the picture.